I grew up with The Muppets. I was at the prime age to watch this brilliant television series when it was first broadcast. I remember being amazed at all the little details that Jim Henson’s muppeteers would put in their scenes. After the series was cancelled we were left with the movies that were sporadically released on home video. While The Muppet Christmas Carol was very funny, it never recaptured that theater experience you got from the original series.
The news that a new Muppet movie was in the works at Disney (now the owners of the Muppet brand) gave me some pause. There always was an edgy quality to the comedy and Disney-fying that would be devastating. Then it was revealed that the project was championed by none other than Jason Segel, a great comedic actor and, according to him, a huge fan of the original show. That eased my dread a bit. This is a guy who has his head in the right place and wouldn’t exploit The Muppets for personal gain.
Boy, was I glad when the positive reviews began pouring in. Jason Segel and director James Bobin had managed to create a movie that capitalized on the star power of The Muppets, but not take them for granted. In The Muppets we meet Walter. He is a puppet who looks a lot like a Muppet. In a beautiful opening montage we see how he and Jason Segel’s Gary grew up together, but when Walter sees The Muppet Show on TV for the first time all he wants is to go to Los Angeles and be part of that extraordinary group. One day he and Gary and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) take a trip to L.A. Once there Walter finds out the original Muppet Theater is in danger of being demolished on account of the greedy oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). The only way to save the theater is to get the Muppets back together again for one last show to raise the money. The problem is that The Muppets haven’t spoken to each other in years and have gone on to live their lives elsewhere.
It is this meta approach that makes The Muppets so special. Instead of presenting The Muppets as the successes they were, Segel and Bobin chose to show them at their weakest. Fozzy plays in a cheap coverband in Reno, Kermit never leaves his sizable mansion which he bought with Miss Piggy who is now a fashion editor in Paris, Animal is in anger management therapy, Gonzo sells toilets and the list goes on and on. Only Rowlf has nothing better to do. This concept alone delivers some heartbreaking and often painfully hilarious scenes. At the center you will always finds Walter, who is thrilled to meet The Muppets, but is also disappointed at the state they are in. We see Walter grow from an insecure puppet to an assertive Muppet during the course of the film.
There are two things that a Muppet can not do without: comedy and songs. And The Muppets has got both in spades. The comedy is as we remember it from the old shows: incredibly fast, often low-brow and that’s the way we like it. The Muppets are known for their quickfire comedy and the creative team was wise to recognize that. The songs start almost right away with the very pleasant “Life’s a happy song”, in which we see Walter, Gary and Mary dance all across Smalltown to the dismay of its inhabitants. It’s a catchy tune and it sets the tone for the movie. Not all the songs work as well as this one, though. There are some smaller songs that don’t really manage to get off the ground, like “Me Party” and “Let’s Talk About Me”. But on the other hand we get a beautiful rendition of ”The Rainbow Connection” and a new song called “Man or Muppet”, that would later win an Oscar.
I can heartily recommend The Muppets to everybody who has a beating heart. At the end even the biggest cynics will be clamoring for a return of The Muppet Show to television, a project that is probably better left untouched. I for one will be watching The Muppets for many years to come together with my dvd’s of the original show, which is still amazing.